Get the Sales Team Selling

To win more customers and grow, every business needs to focus on getting the sales team selling, they need to get sold on sales actions and sales time not just the company’s sales process. One question any salesperson needs clarification on is “what do you want me to do”. Seems like a easy question for a sales leader to answer,”Go sell”. So what does selling actually mean in your business?, is it revenue, margin, revenue by product line, number of new deals?. Once upon a time selling was easily quantified. In the day of the door to door sales, all a sales person needed was the product to demo and enough streets with enough door bells to ring. Simple numbers game, keep knocking until someone opens, give the sales pitch and close.

Today in the digital era, sales has moved inside, online, blended, push,pull, hunter,miner, gatherer and the systems supporting the sales process have gotten more complicated. First we had contact management with software programs like Goldmine, then came CRM and now Sales Force Automation.Which makes me wonder, has actual selling time got second billing to the sales process?, are sales people more engaged in the sales process and systems than the actual selling itself?. Maybe its time to spend longer fighting for more sales!

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Sales models for many companies have become more complex and less efficient in the quest for data, putting pressure on the rate they can acquire customers, productivity and even shifting the focus point from selling time to process time.

The guiding principle of all sales and marketing teams is to maximise selling time, lead generation and relationship building. That may sound obvious to any sales leader, but it is important to remember that the drive for data and sales insights can collide with the forces of rising complexity in the sales process. In fact, sales teams can over time slip comfortable into being sales processors against being sales winners. Companies must understand and clarify the scope of their sales teams while promoting efficiency throughout the sales process.

There are thousands of ways to kill a sale but only a few ways to win them. Some ways to kill a sale are obvious like not showing up to a meeting prepared, not following up, not listening, not establishing a realtionship, going to proposal too early, not speaking to decision makers… the list goes on. These can be easy to identify and with some training and practice can be overcome.

Then there are the sales killers that hide beneath the surface that many companies and sales managers do not even know exist. These are the sales weaknesses in the sales process (over reporting anyone?) which when combined with a salesperson’s own make-up can act like weights pulling down the sales efforts and results.

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Aligning your selling efforts with sales process takes work. Sometimes companies can be cautious about meddling with the sales force—directors and even owners need to overcome the common fear that disrupting it will hamper revenue or market intelligence. Then, other stake holders from not only sales, marketing and sales support but also other functions, such as finance, must work together to identify and prioritise the expected outputs from the sales engine. Next, successful sales teams transformations require support from the very top: someone has to take the lead, get the senior people from across the company to sit down, share data, and be willing to talk about what’s not working. This leader must override internal concerns, see the big picture, and focus on the best solutions to boost the time spent selling regardless of past practices.
Changing the sales focus and sales teams activities may mean changing the sales talent as successful sales teams refocusing may change how people carry out their roles and the ways other stakeholders interact, from customers to marketing and back offices.

Finally, winning back and protecting selling time for sales people to sell requires vigilance. The growth of multi channels marketing and sales channels in the  B2B and B2C markets can demand non-selling activities into the sales teams day. In addition, old habits chip away at selling time: a salespersons ingrained response when a customer needs a quick answer to something is to drop everything and dive in, even when a well mapped out sales support or customer support mechanism is in place to handle any issue faster and better. The new mantra has to be “A sales teams time is better used to sell.”

An example of refocusing the sales team selling time, was an Internet company who set aggressive targets for sales metrics such as the number of new customer interactions per week. Giving the sales people goals they could not meet without changing their behavior forced them to adopt to the change in sales focus. Success became self-reinforcing: the more they stayed in the business of selling the better they performed.

 In larger companies, viewing sales operations across departments may not be easy, nor is implementing changes that affect the entire sales process. Yet the more sales operations can be streamlined and admin reduced, the more likely customer satisfaction will improve as deals close quickly and sales pipeline grows faster. At these companies, the result can often be millions of Euros in higher revenues and lower sales costs.

Get the right sales people and channel in front of the customer at the right time.

It may not be enough to transform the sales teams by hiring people with the skills and capabilities to sell solutions to target sectors. Companies might have to restructure their sales coverage model, which means defining the sales roles differently. The questions to ask, include how much hunting versus gathering capacity to employ; what the role of sales specialists should be; whether to use one or multiple sales people to serve a segment or customers across different geographies.

When to hunt for new customers and when to mine deeper within current customers is one of the answers that needs to be made explicit to any sales team. Too many sales people often get comfortable serving their current customers, so an obvious initial step is to charge them with becoming more aggressive about mining the largest customers to their full potential. At the same time, however, the life blood of any business is acquiring new customers.

That’s why an effective coverage model needs to be deliberate about who should be hunting and where. Sales managers should meet regularly with hunting sales people to understand and actively refine their target prospects and beach-head plans. Given the degree of sales difficulty and the strategic value of acquiring new customers, sellers should receive a compensation recognition for breaking into new accounts.

Whether hunting,farming or mining, it’s critical to get the mix and sequence of sales skills, sales training and specialists right. Do not ignore a sales stream because there’s no sales expert in-house to cover the area with the skills the target customers considers crucial.

Sales people need to learn and be taught how to orchestrate effective teaming. Like musicians who seamlessly improvise back and forth after they have played together several times, salespeople who get to know and trust one another tend to sell together more effectively.

Sales people need to get sold on selling again,

They need to understand that new customer conversations are a priority, building and expanding relationships is more important that a spreadsheet and get the answer to “what do you want me to do?.

Lead Generation

Lead generation efforts whether online,social selling or via sales team can be one of the most underestimated activities in a business in terms of cost,time and the resources needed. The reality is that before a sale transaction happens (even if your B2C business is on-line), there is a process of generating leads (web traffic, inbound,outbound,on-line, events,shows, etc) and in many cases nurturing these leads over a period of time to turn suspects into prospects into sales. So before any sales happens, a business especially in the B2B environment needs a healthy and continuous pipeline of new prospects to sell to.

lead-generation

Generating leads is challenge for most companies 

Generating sales leads is a daily challenge for most companies and according to Forbes Magazine, more than 60% of the marketers polled in a recent marketing survey said their greatest marketing challenge for the year ahead was generating more sales leads to fuel the sales engine, and nearly two-thirds (63%) reported that their marketing mix either doesn’t meet sales demand or they’re unsure of whether their mix is effective. Nearly 40% of those polled cited accurate measurement and attribution of on-line marketing as their biggest challenge.

Remarkably, a quarter (26%) of respondents said they do not track leads to any marketing program at all or they only attribute leads to one program. The old saying about “They know half their marketing spend works but not which half” seems to still ring true more than ever.

Lead generation can be costly (clicks, CPL, sales hunters) so the business needs to educate everyone that without lead generation there is no customer acquisition and probably no sales. It must be the role of every sales and marketing leader in a company to boost sales leads and reduce the cost of filling the pipeline funnel. This needs to be attacked on two fronts, on-line marketing (push,pull,inbound, lead nurturing) and good old fashioned sales work as lead generation cannot be the function of marketing alone. There is now B2B automated lead generation solutions on the marketplace which radically reduces the time sales agents have to spend identifying prospects.

However, lead generation is more than just implementing passive activities like social media, inbound marketing or on-line marketing tactics, the lead generation effort must work hand-in-glove with the sales teams work including social selling, hunting activities around customer acquisition and channel development. Successful companies know how to build a lead generation machine using multiple networks and sources and then fill the sales funnel with qualified prospects on a continuous basis. Most small companies fail not because of product or they can’t sell but because they can’t build a big enough sales funnel of quality prospects in a timely,cost effective way to work the sales process to drive revenue.

sales-outsourcing

There are multiple lead generation tools and resources, for social selling there is LinkedIn, Crunchbase, Owler and other business forums. For on-line inbound lead generation, communities like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr can deliver leads. B2B lead generation solutions which cut down on sales peoples time trying to get lists of prospects are provided from companies like Connectors Marketplace, Insideview, Sales Loft and Lead Genius.

Cost per Lead Generated

Regardless of where or how a business sources its sales leads, the cost per lead in customer acquisition needs to be measured across all the channels. The goal is to try and work back which channels delivered not quantity of leads or lowest cost per lead but the channel which delivers the best lead to conversion cost. An example of this is while the good old fashioned trade show might be considered very effective in generating high-quality leads, they are also expensive (maybe as much as €10,000 per lead) and what is the lead to conversation cost?.

So build a lead generation process, score or segment every lead, cost every lead and educate all the sales team that when they get handed a lead it has cost the business money to get to the point of just talking.

Customer Acquisition Strategy

This is a guide to a customer acquisition strategy. For many start-ups and new companies the customer acquisition strategy and financial cost of customer acquisition is a critical factor in business survival and often underestimated in a growing business. The cost of getting customers can be the difference between success and failure no matter how good a business believes its product to be.  I once read that the goal of any business is to acquire, develop and maintain customers at a profit. The develop and maintain aspects are more clear forward but let’s focus on the cost associated with acquiring new customers regardless of the channel.  

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Every business needs to acquire new customers to make products and businesses work. Whether the product is aimed at enterprises paying big money or getting thousands of visitors to a website, how a business gets and the cost of getting customers are the important part.

The Definition of Customer Acquisition Strategy could be defined as “The process of persuading someone to purchase a company’s goods or services”. The cost associated with the customer acquisition process is a critical measure for a business to evaluate in tandem with how much value having each customer brings to the business.

 

Is The Business Ready for Customer Acquisition?

Paper never refuses ink and this saying has been true in many a business or sales plan when it comes to putting a cost on customer acquisition. The cost is not just the marketing or sales cost but the time and resource cost to getting new customers. Has the business planned for the sales cycle, the demos, the travel, product trials or has a website planned for the cost from free signups to paid, customer or product support prior to a customer making a purchase. In other words, can a business survive while potential customers go through the acquisition cycle? While a quote like “move fast and break things” is exciting in a company start-up situation, it may not be the best advice when it comes to customer acquisition. The decision to start spending investor or shareholder money taking a product to market and begin acquiring new customers should be given the weight it deserves. Entrepreneurs or a business might have spent months or years developing the product, so the execution of the customer acquisition strategy has to be thought out very carefully.

Even before you spend a cent on customer acquisition ask the questions “is the product ready for some/many customers”? Are there still bugs that will make the customer interaction with the product flawed? While the saying “done is better than perfect” to avoid feature creep is practical; it would be a mistake to launch a broken product and fall at the first hurdle.

To take a step back into the business plan around customer acquisition strategy, can a business tick the box on questions like; how many sales calls per day do you expect the salesperson to make, do they have a target list of suspects and prospects, how much activity on the website can the servers handle? Do you have the customer support with the knowledge required to respond to the questions from new customers? Does the product value proposition the salesperson has to sell make sense to people outside the company? In other words, have you done customer validation? These are the type of questions that you need to answer before committing money to a launch.

customer-acquisition-strategy

Being Prepared Always Matters

Any customer acquisition process is not straight forward or predictable but especially so for new companies, but that doesn’t mean a plan is not useful or necessary. The customer acquisition process is far from an exact science. There are many things that can (and do) go wrong, however there are some things that any business can do to mitigate risk and improve the chances of successfully acquiring new customers. Be clear with your team what “Cost to Acquire Customers” (CAC) means, is it paying customers, trial customers, engaged prospects or even website registrations.  In the long run it should only mean the cost to acquire a paying customer.

Estimate the Cost of Customer Acquisition

Money for new product or new business launches is hard won. The budget and time for a start-up may be tight, so the business needs to estimate “worst case scenario” the cost to acquire customers (CAC) before beginning the marketing or sales process. A businesses CAC is loosely defined as the cost of ALL the sales and marketing expenses over a given period of time, divided by the number of customers the business plans to acquire in that time frame. While no business can have a firm sense of the CAC until they begin acquiring customers, having an estimate will help the business leaders prepare to act accordingly.

Logic rules, no matter how excited a business is about getting it out there, do not underestimate the impact of starting the customer acquisitions spend before the product is ready. The greatest risk apart from alienating potential customers by launching a flawed product is the money a business can burn through before it realises it got something in the product wrong.  Every business should ask, what is the baseline product I am willing to “show” potential customers and in what target markets?

Thread carefully in the world of social media and PR, spending time and money on journalists to line up business or product coverage of your launch, only to find out that the product is delayed or has issues, can put the business credibility in jeopardy . Journalists lose interest pretty quickly and are never your friends.

Do Realistic CAC calculations

While a business waits for SEO efforts to kick in, a business may utilise Google Ad Words to drive traffic for (a) for lead generation or (b) sales. Take a look at this example. The cost per click works out at 50 cents, the resulting 1000 website visitors converting to a trial rate of 5% (50) at a cost of €500. These 50 trials are then converting to paid customers at the rate of 10% which is 5. So each customer is costing €100 in just lead generation expense excluding sales/product/support costs. For many companies in the B2C space or in the B2B space with software using the web as their main acquisition channel, it can be hard to get the consumer to pay more than €100 for the product or service

Many business underestimate or do not budget for a realistic CAC, if we take the above example the cost of customer acquisition can climb rapidly if leads require a sales person to convert them. This human interaction can be as simple as email follow ups right up to inside sales people doing multiple sales calls and demos. Depending on the trial/registration rate along with sales conversation rates the cost can vary from €400 to over €5,000 per new customer acquired, depending on the level of interaction needed.

Another CAC calculation is to look at the cost of a field sales force. The fully loaded cost of a field sales executive with travel, car, expenses and salary can push the CAC into over €10,000 in enterprise sales.

In trying to address the single most important early-stage question – customer acquisition – it is easy to waste a lot of money in the wrong channels and on the wrong customer acquisition tactics (lots of companies in the graveyard from just this one failure), especially the new companies that went  toe-to-toe with the big guys and can got blown away.

Every business has to execute in a different way

A business will only thrive by marketing and selling smart; acquiring customers in an economic way and in a way that differentiates the business from the crowd. To goal is to build a customer acquisition strategy for paying customers the business does not have to keep paying for every month.

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Create Demand

In larger companies with deeper pockets while the customer acquisition isn’t exactly simple, they do have more resources. The process of customer acquisition is more challenging for newer companies. Established business’s will utilise bigger budgets, have greater brand awareness, and an ever growing community of influencers. Most new businesses will not launch with a partnership with an established brand like Microsoft, Apple or Google where the demand for the product already exists. Instead a new business has to allocate sales resources and money wisely to fight (and a fight it is) to let potential customers or audiences know that you exist, explain to them why they should show interest, and initially even offering to go the extra mile by holding their hand through the sales process.

The focus of everyone in a new business is not only to create the brand but also the demand. Sales and marketing are not two different departments,  the person leading the marketing drive needs control spend on brand marketing and really understand how to execute lead nurturing, content marketing, web demand generation programs and work hard at marketing efforts that require time but not money. Marketing and sales need to work at the hip to generate a steady, growing stream of leads each and every month.”

Acquiring new customers means understanding what makes your customers tick and investing in inbound marketing strategies such as content and quality articles, got onto the forums, become a subject matter expert and invest in search engine optimization (SEO) as a longer term tactic.

The Business Model

Business model viability, in the majority of new companies, will come down to balancing two things:

Cost to Acquire Customers (CAC)

The ability to extract value from customers, or LTV (Lifetime Value of a Customer)

Web based companies have long understood these metrics as they have a much easier easy way to measure them. However there are huge benefits for all businesses to look at these same metrics.

To repeat the message from a few paragraphs back, to calculate the cost to acquire a customer, CAC, a business needs to take the entire cost of sales and marketing over a given period, including salaries and other headcount related expenses, and divide it by the number of customers that a business has acquired in that period.  (In pure web plays where the headcount does not need to scale as customer acquisition scales, it is also very useful to look customer acquisition costs with/without the headcount costs.)

To compute the Lifetime Value of a Customer(LTV), you would look at the margin that you would expect to make from that customer over the lifetime of your relationship. Margin should take into consideration any support, installation, and servicing costs.

Manage Optimism with Reality

To be in business requires huge optimism, and in a belief in how much customers will want to buy your product. Unfortunately this can lead businesses to believe that customers will be kicking down the doors to purchase the product. This has the effect of grossly underestimating the cost it will take to acquire customers. In too many companies there is little or no focus on how much it will cost to acquire customers. Vague strategies along the lines of web marketing, and/or viral growth with no numbers is not what you call business!

 

To finish, a well thought out CAC plan outlines the need to acquire customers through a series of steps like SEO, SEM, PR, Social Media Marketing, direct sales, channel sales, etc. with the cost of each step worked out. This planning brings honesty to the real cost of customer acquisition.